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AHL rookie prospects

John Carlson played three games with the Washington Capitals in November, but has spent the majority of the season in the American League. (Photo by Mitchell Layton/NHLI via Getty Images)

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John Carlson played three games with the Washington Capitals in November, but has spent the majority of the season in the American League. (Photo by Mitchell Layton/NHLI via Getty Images)

These aren’t the halcyon days of the six-team NHL, when the American League was full of players who would, relatively speaking, put many of today’s millionaire NHLers to shame.

But these also aren’t the days when the NHL’s affiliate allegiances were split between the AHL and the International League. Today, all 30 NHL teams send their minor-leaguers to AHL squads, with a few ECHL teams sprinkled in as homes for young netminders who need a lot of playing time and long-shot skaters.

An AHL rookie can range in age from 18 to, well, if you’re Chris Chelios, 47 years old. Major junior players must have played four full seasons or be 20 years old before they can play in the AHL’s regular season, while Europeans must only have been drafted by an NHL team before heading to North America to ply their trade.

This year there’s a bumper crop of AHL rookies at every position – all three of the all-star goalies for Team PlanetUSA, are rookies, but not all (Anton Khudobin) made our list. We took into account things such as age, team and playing style in determining THN.com’s Top 10 AHL Rookie Prospects.

10. Tyler Ennis, C, Portland Pirates (Buffalo)
Ennis, 20, scored 115 goals and 236 points in four Western League seasons. The 26th overall pick in 2008 is the second-leading rookie scorer this season with 12 goals and 38 points in 41 games and was chosen for the All-Star Game. If he wasn’t just 5-foot-9, Ennis would be higher here. But, hey, at that height, he’ll fit right in with the Sabres.

9. Lars Eller, C, Peoria Rivermen (St. Louis)
The 20-year-old Dane is in his first season in North America after plying his trade in Sweden since being picked 13th overall in the 2007 draft. He’s the No. 4 rookie scorer with six goals and 28 points in 31 games and has already played five NHL contests this season.

8. Alexander Salak, G, Rochester Americans (Florida)
The Czech Republic native played in Finland the past two seasons as TPS Turku’s No. 1 netminder. In his first season on this side of the Atlantic, Salak is an AHL all-star and has already played in two NHL games. The 23-year-old has a 17-5-0 record, 2.44 goals-against average and .924 save percentage for Rochester.

7. Evgeny Grachev, LW, Hartford Wolf Pack (Rangers)
Grachev could still be playing junior, but the Rangers felt the 6-foot-4, 220-pound, 19-year-old would be better served playing against men his own size. Grachev’s numbers (nine goals and 19 points in 41 games) are not overwhelming, but he’s got great hands and is a north-south type of guy who just needs someone to get him the puck.

6. Michal Neuvirth, G, Hershey Bears (Washington)
If there’s one thing the Capitals have an abundance of, it’s young goaltenders (the numbers of Hershey’s other rookie netminder, Braden Holtby, are similarly impressive). Neuvirth, 21, a Czech Republic native, played major junior in the Ontario League, so he’s used to the game climate in North America and that’s a good thing for the AHL’s top team. Currently in the NHL, but destined to return to Hershey, Neuvirth’s AHL numbers are 10-5-0, a 1.99 GAA and .929 SP, earning him an all-star berth.

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5. Zach Boychuk, C, Albany River Rats (Carolina)
Boychuk, 20, is currently up with the big club, but will be sent back to Albany once the Hurricanes get healthy. He is part of a core group being groomed to move up together next season. The 14th pick of the 2008 draft proved himself a potent junior scorer and is currently second in scoring for Albany, a decidedly less-than-potent squad.

4. Tomas Tatar, LW, Grand Rapids Griffins (Detroit)
The young Slovak (he turned 19 Dec. 1) is just back from the World Junior Championship where he acquitted himself well for a less than stellar Slovakian side. Tatar is currently fifth in Griffins scoring with nine goals and 20 points despite playing just 25 games, 10 to 15 fewer than most of his teammates. He’s also third on his team with a plus-12 rating. Once the 5-foot-10, 179-pounder bulks up, he’ll be ready for the Red Wings lineup.

3. P.K. Subban, D, Hamilton Bulldogs (Montreal)
With a 0.81 points-per-game average in junior, it was always thought Subban, 20, was a riverboat gambler of a blueliner. But in his first year as a pro, the all-star selection is No. 2 in the AHL in plus-minus and tied for second in defensemen scoring with nine goals and 27 points in 40 games. Don’t expect him in ‘The Hammer’ again next year.

2. Logan Couture, C, Worcester Sharks (San Jose)
It was feared by some that 20-year-old Couture had stalled in his development as a junior. But now that he’s a pro that certainly doesn’t seem to be the case. Despite being a rookie and having played just 27 games, Couture is sixth in league scoring with 14 goals and 39 points; he also leads the AHL with six game-winners.

1. John Carlson, D, Hershey Bears (Washington)
Carlson, 20, scored the gold medal-winning goal at this year’s World Junior Championship for Team USA. He was a WJC all-star and, with one goal, 24 points and a plus-19 rating in 31 games, an AHL all-star this year. He’s already spent time with the Capitals this season and having a pro season under his belt while he’s still junior eligible will mean great things for the future No. 2 D-man in Washington.

The THN.com Top 10 appears Wednesdays only on TheHockeyNews.com.

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